By Christopher L. Heffner, PsyD, PhD
You Can Bank On it
Psychological capital in many ways is like a savings account for our well-being. Just as it is good to save money for a rainy day, it is good to build psychological capital. It is beneficial for good days and allows us greater comfort and safety in taking risks, being vulnerable, and trying new things because it brings with it a greater belief in the self and our ability to succeed. It also provides a cushion in case we fall short. Psychological Capital is also useful in the not so good times by helping us overcome obstacles or at least minimize their impact. It also helps us to better prepare for potential problems and may help us avoid them or their negative impacts altogether.
Be a Hero
The four components of Psychological Capital include: Hope, (Self)-Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism. Together these form the acronym HERO.
Hope is the possession of the willpower (agency and goal directed energy) and waypower (pathway) to achieve positive change (Snyder et al., 1991). When we can imagine our preferred future (our goal), a way to get there, and are driven to bring about this future, hope is born.
Here's a video from Fresno State Kremen School of Education (2016) summarizing Snyder's Hope Theory:
Research has demonstrated the positive power of hope and the destructiveness of hopelessness. A classic study in psychotherapy estimates that hope accounts for as much as 15% of psychotherapeutic outcomes (Lambert, 1992). More recently, Park & Chen (2016) argue that hope, above all other concepts within positive psychology, is the most important in recovering from mental illness. On the other end of the continuum, a lack of hope, or sense of hopelessness, has been found to be a significant predictor of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts (Klonsky et al., 2012).
Studies like these demonstrate the power of hope and why hope is one of the four components of psychological capital. In many ways, hope opens the door to our preferred future.
Self-efficacy is the belief that one has the ability to bring about positive change. The concept was developed by Albert Bandura as part of his social learning theory, which argues that we learn about ourselves, the world, and our effectiveness in the world through our social interactions. In this sense, social learning takes on a cognitive component as we work to make sense of our experiences and a behavioral component as we act upon our environment (Rumjaun & Narod, 2020). The video below (Burditt, n.d.) provides a good overview of the concept of self-efficacy.
According to the American Psychological Association (2012), resilience is "the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors." Resilience allows us to bounce back more quickly and more effectively and may help us avoid difficulty altogether.
Just like all components of psychological capital, resilience can be developed. A Solution-Focused concept known as Flagging the Minefield provides an example of how we can build resilience. The concept was named after the flags placed on explosives when blasting mines and involves flagging or identifying potential obstacles of forward progress. Once flagged, we can then develop strategies to avoid them or to prepare ourselves to better confront them. Here's two ways you can flag the minefield and build resilience:
- Prioritize potential obstacles by the likelihood of their occurrence and their potential negative impact.
- Identify resources that could be activated to limit the negative impact of obstacles, avoid the obstacle, or turn the obstacle into a positive.
Optimism is the belief that positive change can occur given the current resources and environment. Research with parents of children with depression or anxiety found that parents who were more optimistic tended to experience a lesser amount of strain than their counterparts who took a more pessimistic stance (Gross, 2020). Optimism has also been found to counter distress associated with chronic medical diagnoses, such as cancer (Carver et al., 2010). It has been linked to positive parenting practices and overall better physical health (Scheier & Carver, 1987; Taylor et al., 2010) and is often associated with increased resiliency to distressing life challenges (Carver et al., 2010).
As animals, optimism does not come easy. We are naturally pessimistic creatures. This evolutionary trait allows us to better predict and respond to danger. Being prewired for pessimism means we have to work extra hard to be optimistic.
To learn more about optimism and the differences between a pessimistic mindset and an optimistic mindset, read our previous blog titled Learning to be Optimistic.
American Psychological Association (2012). Building your resilience. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/resilience.
Burditt, R. (n.d.). Self Efficacy. Video. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/HnACsrdGZAI.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 879-889.
Forgeard, M. J. . C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Seeing the glass half full: A review of the causes and consequences of optimism. Pratiques Psychologiques, 18(2), 107–120.
Fresno State Kremen School of Education (2016). Hope theory: Make your life better. Video. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuHZhi1B4T4&feature=emb_logo.
Gross, J. (2020). Examining optimism and caregiver strain in parents with youth and young adults diagnosed with anxiety and unipolar mood disorders. Antioch University Seattle, PsyD Dissertation.
Klonsky, E. D., Kotov, R., Bakst, S. Rabinowitz, J, & Bromet, E. (2012). Hopelessness as a predictor of attempted suicide among first admission patients with psychosis: A 10-year cohort study. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 42(1), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1943-278X.2011.00066.x.
Lambert, M. J. (1992). Psychotherapy outcome research: Implications for integrative and eclectical therapists. In J. C. Norcross & M. R. Goldfried (Eds.), Handbook of psychotherapy integration (pp. 94–129). Basic Books.
Park, J. & Chen, R. (2016). Positive psychology and hope to recovery from mental illness. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 47(2). DOI: 10.1891/0047-2184.108.40.206.
Rumjaun A., & Narod F. (2020) Social Learning Theory—Albert Bandura. In: Akpan B., Kennedy T.J. (eds) Science education in theory and practice. Springer Texts in Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43620-9_7.
Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1987). Dispositional optimism and physical well-being: The influence of generalized outcome expectancies on health. Journal of Personality, 55, 169-210.
Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., et al. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585.